If you're like me, you gave self-defense classes a try when you were a kid, but punching air and going "kiai!" for an hour every other day seemed pretty useless, so you never made it to yellow belt status. Other kids earned many different-colored belts—perhaps even the prized black one—and good for them. They learned a valuable life skill and will surely pull some cool Jackie Chan shit if they ever get attacked by a homicidal maniac. Their maniac will rue the day he messed with them, but my maniac will simply murder me, which is a bummer.
This is decidedly not how "reality-based" self-defense instructor Tim Larkin views fighting with people who are hellbent on hurting you. He markets his pared-down, easy-to-digest style online as "Target Focus Training"—with the "targets" in question being whatever spot on a person is most convenient for delivering a catastrophic injury. Consequently, Larkin's new book, When Violence Is the Answer: Learning How to Do What It Takes When Your Life Is at Stake, is an expansion of this strategy. It won't teach you balance, or breathing, or athleticism, or really anything you would expect Demetrious Johnson to bust out in the Octagon. Instead, the book is a manual of abrupt, gruesome violence.
If you're attacked and it's time to use real violence, Larkin recommends "any injury that eliminates his ability to function." The idea is summed up in this downright inspiring passage:
Is he stronger than you? Not with a crushed throat, he isn't. Is he faster than you? Not with a shattered knee. Is he far more dangerous than you, with scads of training, expertise, a gun, and an indomitable iron will? Not with a broken neck.
If you're thinking this all sounds a little bit, um, evil, then congratulations: You're a reasonable person. Fortunately, When Violence Is the Answer has a philosophical side. Larkin loves combat sports as much as the next guy, but as he makes abundantly clear, we're not talking about squaring off against opponents in honorable fights. Larkin makes an impassioned case throughout the book that everyday people sometimes get attacked by vicious people, and in these situations, shooting the motherfucker with a gun would be legally justified. Guns, to be clear, are a delivery system for life-altering, or even lethal injuries, and if you understand a few basic principles, your body—any body really—can deliver those injuries too.
So after reading the book, I talked to Larkin, so he could teach me a little more about how I can—if I have literally no other option—do some George R. R. Martin shit to another living human being.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
VICE: Let's be very general for a second. Broadly speaking, how do you deliver a gruesome injury to someone?
Tim Larkin: It's not that complicated. All you need is to understand basic anatomy. It's physics and physiology, meeting poorly. You're going to take a hard part of your body, and put it in a weak part of the other person's body that's not rated for that type of power. It's a very simple concept.
Was there some methodology you used to hone these principles?
We went to sports injury data. Every injury in sports is a result of humans colliding with humans, or humans colliding with the planet. Those are forces that you and I can replicate. And in that data, the same 70-plus areas keep showing up as being injured.
Can you give me some example of one single injury that tends to work when your students get attacked and need to use violence?
No. You don't know what the actual components are going to be, but you [need to] understand the principles. You're saying, "Hey, Tim, I want to learn multiplication, so tell me the equation that comes up all the time." And I tell you, "OK, it's 42 times 45," and you memorize it, and you feel really, really good. And when the shit hits the fan, and it hits you, it's 27 times 32, and you've never seen that before. [I've] had a lot of people who have been able to strike the side of the neck. The reason they're so often successful striking the side of the neck is that the side of the neck has a vein, an artery, and two nerves, so when you strike the side of the neck, you'll either get a vasovagal response—kind of like a dimmer switch—or you can cause a concussion. I could, if I didn't actively care, say, "Oh, try hitting the side of the neck." But I'd be disingenuous if I told you that.
How do you respond when someone says you're encouraging people to "fight dirty"?
I'm not against that term. The problem is, if I use terms like that, I lose the audience. They say, "I'm not a criminal. I'm not a bad person. Therefore, I won't look at that." When I talk about violence, I look at it as a tool. How you use it will determine whether it's a justified use of violence, or if it was criminal. I educate people to use it with justification.
Don't you worry that the "tool" you're providing can be misused?
The real sad truth that everyone doesn't realize is, the best people in the world at doing violence to each other and being successful—using their bare hands or improvised tools—have zero training in combat sports or martial arts. They all reside in the prison system, and they look at violence in a very utilitarian way. They can't afford to look at it in a fantasy [way]. They have to be results-oriented. What works? When you look at it from that approach, you look at it more as doing mechanical work.
When people take a self-defense class, I think a lot of the time, they want someone to teach them to be Bruce Lee, and you're definitely not doing that. Is that a problem in your classes?
I'll show people the human body, lying on the ground, and I'm showing them how to stomp on something, and people will be doing all these weird versions of a stomp. And I'll stop them and say "show me how you would stomp a coke can and make it go spraying everywhere." And then often they'll do it mechanically perfectly, because when they think it's quote-unquote "martial arts" they do all this weird stuff. When they think of it as mechanical work, they naturally go right to the right structure, and they naturally know how to deploy their body weight. This is natural movement.
A lot of passages from your book with no context sound like a manual for an absolute psychopath. I mean, you are, in a sense, telling people to gouge people's eyes out after all.
Here's how you get around that. Try [these three scenarios] out: [Number one] "A guy comes into the bar and pushes me, and tells me that's his seat, so I reach out, and I grab his hair, and I gouge his eye out." [Number two] "I'm pulling into Whole Foods. I'm waiting for a parking spot for two minutes. A guy comes in with a Mercedes and grabs my spot. I get out of the car, pull him out of his car, throw him up against the car, and gouge his eye out, your honor."
Yeah, I'm not onboard so far. These are very bad justifications.
Yeah, so [number three]: "He came in the door of my office and shot two people already. I saw him drop down for a reload. When he dropped down for the reload, I was able to tackle him and get him on the ground. Then the first thing I saw was his eye, and I gouged his eye out, which stopped him from going on." Nobody laughs at that.
That's one example. Are there rules for when you should and shouldn't do these things?
When you're devoid of choice. That's number one. Number two: In that particular scenario, if you possessed a firearm, you would feel justified emptying the firearm into that person. That's the kind of situation we're talking about. Immediately, all of the social, stupid stuff goes right out the window—the bar-fight type of stuff—because it doesn't meet that threshold. The other thing is, if you don't take action, you're basically going to participate in your own murder. At the point where you're facing grievous bodily harm, and you have a choice, as a default, the only thing that works is injury to the human body, because that's the only thing that bypasses "bigger, faster, and stronger."
It seems like kids really shouldn't know this stuff. Do kids take your classes?
I have a 22-year-old son, and a six-year-old [son]. And I have twin four-year-old daughters. My 22-year-old navigated high school and didn't get exposed to my kind of training—although he knew it existed—until he was 17 and a half when he went to his first course. Boys have enough of a hard time navigating their high school years without this type of information. They're not mature enough in my experience to understand that you can irreparably harm people if you have this information. They might try to test it out. My daughters? They'll get it at eleven.
When Violence Is The Answer: Learning How to Do What It Takes When Your Life Is at Stake will be available from Hachette on September 5. It is available for preorder now.
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